By  on March 1, 2005

PARIS — Nicolas Ghesquière, one of the most influential designers of his generation, has been asked to experiment with something new at Balenciaga: profits.

And he says he’s more than up to the challenge of meeting the 2007 breakeven deadline imposed by Balenciaga’s parent, Gucci Group. In fact, he wants to get there sooner, by the time his employment contract expires in July 2006.

“This is realistic and I’m not the only one to believe it now,” Ghesquière said in an exclusive interview. “The mood of the house is very positive. People are very encouraged by what’s happening inside.

“Even if we’re not a priority in the group — and [it’s] clear we’re considered a small brand — I still want to prove that we can be bigger than that. That’s my challenge for the next year and a half.”

During a frank conversation at Balenciaga’s 17th century studios on the Rue du Cherche-Midi here, Ghesquière proved he’s as comfortable talking about the bottom line as balloon-shaped hemlines. He mapped out a breakeven strategy based on:

  • Building on Balenciaga’s current momentum at wholesale. Spring-summer 2005 orders zoomed 80 percent versus a year ago. Pre-fall collection orders were up 120 percent.

  • Introducing more “accessible” products, like the new greatest-hits collection of pants and knits he did for pre-fall.

  • Focusing on fast-growing markets like Japan, where the business has tripled in two years.

  • Regaining control of the fragrance business once the current license expires with Jacques Bogart Group at the end of 2005.

  • Keeping a tight rein on spending. “We have to squeeze,” Ghesquière said, referring to budgets, not his strict silhouettes.
Ghesquière also disclosed he is “not at all” opposed to licensing — often a dirty word in luxury circles, and certainly during the era of Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole at Gucci Group. “If we find a good partner who believes in Balenciaga — yes, why not,” he said. “I’ve already made a few contacts.”

He declined to elaborate, but later allowed that classic men’s suits and trousers could be a category ripe for a partnership.

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